Shuttle launch pushed to next year
Email this story
Printer friendly format
August 19, 2005
ORLANDO, Fla. - The space shuttle will not launch again until March at the earliest because engineers need more time to figure out why foam keeps breaking off the ships' external fuel tanks during flight, NASA announced yesterday.
The agency is considering various fixes, including removing and reapplying foam in one area that shed the largest piece of debris during the July 26 launch of shuttle Discovery.
But the evaluation and study needed make any launch attempts this year impossible, said NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier.
He spoke at a news conference with agency administrator Michael Griffin, who responded to criticism of NASA's management and engineering practices.
The critical comments became public Wednesday in the final report of a task group that monitored the agency's return-to-flight effort after the 2003 Columbia disaster.
The report, mostly positive, contained assertions that NASA still accepts risks without understanding them or even knowing how to evaluate them.
Griffin said pushing the next shuttle mission to March is evidence that the agency is taking a conservative approach.
While not addressing specific criticisms, he expressed confidence in his top shuttle managers.
Though Discovery's tank shed foam, Griffin noted that fewer pieces of foam came off this tank than in previous launches.
A piece of foam damaged Columbia during its launch, causing the orbiter to break apart over Texas in 2003 while landing. Seven astronauts were killed.